Reporting for Impact – The Future of Reporting and the SDGs

Throughout the month of October, PRiMEtime is focused on reporting and sustainability. Here we focus in on one of the tools developed and used by the PRME community to report on the SDGs: the SDG Dashboard. While only a handful of Sharing Information on Progress Reports report on a school’s impacts in relation to the SDGs, the SDG Dashboard aims to collect and share initiatives and actions specifically in relation to the SDGs and to use this information to drive substantive engagement in the SDGs internally and collectively as a business school community. I spoke with David Steingard, Director of the SDG Dashboard at Haub School of Business in the USA, not just how the Dashboard is being used, but what the future of business school reporting on sustainability will look like and how we can get there.  

What is the SDG Dashboard?

The SDG Dashboard is a collaborative platform for higher education institutions to report and share their best practices on advancing the SDGs in the Impact Areas of Teaching, Research, Partnerships, Dialogue, and Organizational Practices (adopted from PRME’s Six Principles). Launched in 2016 as an initiative of the Haub School of Business, the SDG Dashboard was developed in a close working relationship with the PRME Secretariat and a number of PRME Champion schools who participated in several developmental pilots. Currently, there are 7 PRME schools in a live, interactive SDG Dashboard and growing. For PRME schools looking to substantively engage the SDGs, PRME recently launched its Blueprint for SDG Integration that includes instructions for establishing SDG Dashboards for PRME schools. 

How are schools using the dashboard? 

PRME schools use SDG Dashboards to collect and share their best SDG impact practices for both internal and external audiences. Internally, the SDG Dashboard is a vehicle to show progress and opportunities within the institution to align with the SDGs. For example, the PRME school Glasgow School for Business and Society utilizes data from their SDG Dashboard to assist in the internal refocusing on the entire university’s mission. The university is in the process of strategically integrating SDGs throughout its research, teaching, and organizational practices. 

Externally, the SDG Dashboard demonstrates commitments to the SDGs–very beneficial for communicating a school’s involvement as an institution to engender sustainability leadership. For example, the University of Applied Sciences of the Grisons is the first PRME school to integrate its SDG Dashboard into its SIP report. This synergy is very helpful for PRME schools to demonstrate advancement of PRME’s SDG-intensive Mission.

What are some of the differences you have seen in terms of the way that business schools report versus how businesses report on the SDGs? 

As an example, the UN Global Compact systematically collects and aggregates data about corporate performance in terms of fulfilling the Goals, Targets, and Indicators of the SDGs. This systematic approach evaluates the strategies, policies, operations, and metrics of companies in terms of impact on the actual quantitative measures required of the SDGs. Business schools take a slightly different approach. Looking at a typical PRME business school’s SIP that embraces the SDGs, reporting tends to demonstrate how schools are supporting SDGs throughout their curricula, research, partnerships, and organizational practices. Certainly, many of these reports offer quantitative data to convey impact on SDGs, yet they are not as directly mapped to specific SDG Goals, Targets, and Indicators like business reporting. I do not think this differing approach is a limitation of business school SDG impact reporting, but reflects a very necessary advantage. 

In the overall landscape of how nation states, corporations, civil society, and NGOs will achieve the SDGs, each of these sectors has a necessary role. Business schools, and higher education generally, are responsible for the invaluable intellectual and leadership formation of students and business practitioners–this is their unique platform as educational institutions. In terms of materiality–the relevant significance of issues–business should be concerned about its measurable impacts on person and planet from what it produces in goods and services. Business school education should be materially concerned with how its intellectual and pedagogical outputs develop the mindset, skills, and leadership vision to foster sustainability. Basically, because business and business schools function so differently, they currently have and–should continue to have–appropriately distinctive methods of sustainability reporting. 

What do you think are some of the challenges we are going to have to deal with/explore further in order to get to strengthen the way schools report on sustainability? 

I believe that the business-business school ecosystem maintains a mutually co-creating dynamic where, ideally, business practice and business school academia collaborate to advance knowledge and prepare next generations of business leaders. However, due to a historical imbalance of influence, business maintains a disproportionate amount of power to shape business school education’s aims. Let’s call this ‘business as usual’–the purpose of business is to excel in free-market capitalism and deliver growth and profits for shareholders. Contrast this with ‘business as unusual,’ where larger concerns of equitable and sustainable impact of business on person and planet are prioritized–a sustainable stakeholder or purpose-driven version of capitalism that has been popularized. 

Currently, I see the upswell of sustainability reporting of business schools to be a desirable, but not required dimension of their basic reason to exist. Both business and business schools must pivot, refocus on ‘business as unusual’ in order to noticeably move the needle on some of the most pressing issues of our times: climate change; social economic, and racial injustice; pandemic diseases like Covid-19, and a renewal of broken governance systems throughout the world. Unfortunately, sustainability reporting will always be a bit of an empty sideshow if the main event of business and business school education is not dedicated to a comprehensive reinvention of their basic purpose to ‘do Good.’ 

How can we drive this change then?

While what I am suggesting is a daunting endeavour, I do see promising signs of such a coordinated sea-change. One is through accreditation. PRME community’s leadership over the years in responsible and sustainable management education is part of a movement influencing accreditation standards toward a more comprehensive understanding of impact–a more holistic approach that considers prosperity, people, and planet. I find it heartening that the brand new 2020 AACSB Standards now include an entire standard dedicated to just these issues: “Standard 9: Engagement and Societal Impact.” Furthermore, and I find this very encouraging, AACSB’s Interpretive Guidance for the new Standards include SDGs as a legitimate domain in which to assess impact (it is actually first on a list of 19 bonafide impacts!). 

How would you like to see the SDG Dashboard be used in the future?

I feel the SDG Dashboard is well positioned to serve PRME and higher education institutions to maximize their individual and collective efforts to advance the SDGs. Ultimately, with enough PRME schools reporting data in this type of aggregated SDG Dashboard, strategic assessments and opportunities for collaboration across the global PRME community in relation to the SDGs can be more fully realized.

While I haven’t yet witnessed it, I can envision how SDG Dashboards could be deployed by schools to recruit a new generation of students who champion the SDGs as a vital foundation. 

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